I never cease to be amazed at the whole waste of energy and effort that business go through due to the lack of collaboration. Many business leaders I speak too show a great sense of frustration as change never seems to stick out and deliver what is expected. A lot of hope and effort in the beginning, with so little to show for it at the end.

Why is this?

Collaboration is both a value to cultivate and a skill to teach. Not just a culture and not just a skill – both. In many instances collaboration is approached either through superficial or heavy-handed means and research has shown that none of them reliably delivers truly robust collaboration.What’s needed is a psychological approach.

Research shows that sustained collaboration is possible through common mental attitudes of

  • widespread respect for colleagues’ contributions
  • openness to experimenting with others’ ideas
  • sensitivity to how one’s actions may affect both colleagues’ work and the mission’s outcome.

The main issue is that these attitudes are rare. Instead, most people display the opposite mentality, distrusting others and obsessing about their own status. The task for business leaders is to encourage an outward focus in everyone, challenging the tendency we all have to fixate on ourselves—what we’d like to say and achieve—instead of what we can learn from others.

Research study after research study, it is proven that certain techniques enable both leaders and employees to work well together, learn from one another and overcome the psychological barriers that get in the way of doing both. These techniques are:-

  • Teach People to Listen, Not Talk
    Employees think a lot about how to make the right impression—how to frame their arguments in discussions with bosses, get their points across in meetings, persuade others to do what they want. This is understandable, given the competitive nature of our workplaces, but it has a cost. Research suggests that all too often when others are talking, we’re getting ready to speak instead of listening. That tendency only gets worse as we climb the corporate ladder. We fail to listen because we’re anxious about our own performance, convinced that our ideas are better than others’, or both. As a result we get into conflicts that could be avoided, miss opportunities to advance the conversation, alienate the people who haven’t been heard, and diminish our teams’ effectiveness.When we really listen, on the other hand, our egos and our self-involvement subside, giving everybody the space to understand the situation—and one another—and to focus on the mission. Practice “active listening.” That means suppressing the urge to interrupt or dominate a conversation, make it about yourself, and instead concentrate on the implications of your words. Then practice asking open-ended “what” and “how” questions—which prompt people to provide more information, reflect on their situations, and feel more heard—rather than yes-or-no questions, which can kill conversations. Become comfortable with silence. This doesn’t mean just not speaking; it means communicating attentiveness and respect while you’re silent. And it’s a challenge for those who are in love with the sound of their own voices. Such people dominate discussions and don’t give others who are less vocal or who simply need more time to think an opportunity to talk.
  • Train People to Practice Empathy
    Think about the last time you were in a conflict with a colleague. Chances are, you started feeling that the other person was either uncaring or not very bright. Being receptive to the views of someone we disagree with is no easy task, but when we approach the situation with a desire to understand our differences, we get a better outcome. In successful collaborations, each person assumes that everyone else involved, regardless of background or title, is smart, caring, and fully invested. That mindset makes people want to understand why others have differing views, which allows them to have constructive conversations. Judgment gives way to curiosity, and people come to see that other perspectives are as valuable as theirs.
  • Make People More Comfortable with Feedback
    Good collaboration involves giving and receiving feedback well—and from a position of influence rather than one of authority. However aversion to feedback is common. As givers of it, we want to avoid hurting others. As recipients, we feel tension between the desire to improve and the desire to be accepted for who we are. Hence there are three rules for feedback that need to be followed: Be straightforward in both how you address a person and what you say about him or her; identify the particular behaviour that worked (or didn’t); and describe the impact of the behavior on you and others. These practices help counteract a common problem: feedback that is too general and leads to nowhere.
  • Teach People to Lead and Follow
    A lot of attention is paid, in the literature and in the practice of management, to what makes a truly effective leader. There has been much less consideration of how to follow, though that, too, is an important skill. Research shows that a company’s best collaborators—those known for adding value to interactions and solving problems in ways that left everyone better off—are adept at both leading and following, moving smoothly between the two as appropriate.
  • Speak with Clarity
    In any collaboration there are times for open discussion of ideas and times when someone, regardless of whether he or she is a leader, needs to cut through the confusion and clearly articulate the path forward. When we communicate with others, psychological research shows, we are often too indirect and abstract. Our words would carry more weight if we were more concrete and provided vivid images of goals.
  • Train People to Have Win-Win Interactions
    When we communicate, we are often too indirect and abstract. In instances of successful collaborative projects, people are open about their personal interests and how they think they can contribute to solving the problem. Such transparency allows people to explore everyone’s vision of winning and, ultimately, get more-favorable results.

So business leaders who are frustrated by a lack of collaboration can start by asking themselves a simple question: What have they done to encourage it today? It is only by regularly owning their own mistakes, listening actively and supportively to people’s ideas, and being respectful but direct when challenging others’ views and behavior that they can encourage lasting collaboration. By training people to employ the above techniques, leaders can make creative, productive teamwork a way of life.

At, EMCS, we specialise at training business people and employees in the areas of teamwork, communication and leadership. The so called soft skills…which are needed so much and often overlooked. Our approach is that we bring together researched findings and a very practical and hands on approach to make this training relevant to people in the working world. Please feel free to contact me on to learn more about this.

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